All stations to aid: Global Humanitarian Assistance’s new interactive guide

Ed Cairns

Blog post by Ed Cairns

Oxfam Great Britain, Senior Policy Advisor
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I’m quite a fan of the Global Humanitarian Assistance reports produced every year by the Development Initiatives think tank. They combine invaluable data on funding with thoughtful commentary on what is and is not changing in the humanitarian world. So I was pretty excited to see last week that they’ve launched a new ‘interactive guide to humanitarian financing’.

Anything that can make humanitarian financing less befuddling is welcome, and the guide certainly does that. Click on it and you’ll be taken through 3 opening pages towards the wealth of funding data on the GHA site. Like half the infographics on the planet, it seems, the main page looks like a map of a subway, metro or, as we say in London, ‘tube’ system.

Even Shakespeare's characters can be presented on a "tube map". © The Royal Shakespeare Company

These days every possible issue, it appears, can be represented in such a way, from schools of modern art and 20th century music to – just for example – the plays and characters of Shakespeare.

Too simple?

Most of these maps are as complicated as they are colorful. But GHA’s is pretty simple, showing seven clear lines delivering humanitarian aid to the ‘aid recipient’ placed, quite rightly, in the center. And as Hamlet would have said, perhaps there’s the rub.

For interacting with the GHA guide, I couldn’t help thinking that some of it seemed perhaps a little bit too simple. From the main map, it looks as if UN agencies give as directly to beneficiaries as local government or civil society. Some of the ‘train lines’ more or less work as a sequence, delivering funds station-by-station closer to the recipient; but none of them perfectly, and some are really just lists. Unlike the Shakespeare map, they show none of the complexity that, for example, governments fund UN agencies to fund NGOs to fund someone who might actually meet a recipient.

Another page shows the direct and indirect channels for aid – but from the donor's, not the recipient’s point of view. And some of the information on ‘stations’ (aka donors) is more helpful than others. The guide is very honest about the lack of data on – but great importance of – local and national governments and civil society. But it rather too glibly says that international military forces provide a ‘substantial addition to the resources and assets deployed by humanitarian organizations’. "Yes, but…" would be a kind response; and, to be fair, on a later page there is far more detail on the costs and disadvantages of such assistance.

A timely, useful, even entertaining reminder

All in all, the guide is very worth looking at. As GHA says, it’s something to evolve, and I’m sure they’ll consider whether their users could find their way round a more complex subway system in the future.

For now, let’s just remember a couple of things that the guide and GHA’s data beyond it reveal:

  1. Many donors’ economic woes are really now biting – and the gap between the humanitarian aid needed and provided is widening.
  2. All the talk about resilience has not yet translated into a decent proportion of ODA invested to reduce the risk of disasters. Between 2006 and 2010, it was less than a woeful 1%.

In 2011, governments promised to ‘prioritize the building of resilience among people and societies at risk… and increase the resources, planning and skills for disaster management’, at the Busan aid conference. Little could now be more vital. While at the same time humanitarian aid to today’s crises must be sustained even in the most difficult economic times. Despite my quibbles above, GHA’s new guide is a timely, useful, even entertaining reminder of that need.

Related links

The interactive guide to humanitarian financing by GHA

Oxfam's work on aid effectiveness

Where Oxfam is responding to emergencies